I love clothes. I really love clothes.

I’m always noticing what everyone else is wearing. I can’t help myself.

I pretty much know what I like. And what I really don’t like.

I like it when someone looks different from the crowd. When someone has developed their own personal style. When someone is expressing themselves through what they wear. When someone has clearly thought about the whole ensemble.

Sometimes that person is me.

I used to wear what was convenient and practical and reasonably priced and would take no thought to wear. But where’s the fun in that?

Now I wear what I love. Sometimes that’s about feel as much as look. I’m a sucker for the feel of a fabric – a soft jersey cotton, that satin pocket that makes me smile, velvet – always velvet, lace…

And the look? Well, that varies…colour, tie dye, dip dye, graphic tees…boho chic, casual sportswear, dresses…lots and lots of dresses. Unusual – usually unusual in some way – asymmetric hemlines, odd buttons, anything out of the ordinary.

So fashion then. Where do I stand on fashion?

Well, it depends what you mean by fashion. If by fashion, you mean slavishly following trends, then no, I’m not into that. I hate how there are now no longer four seasons a year – clothing ranges are changing quicker than anyone can keep up with. And as soon as there’s a sense that an item is ‘so last season’, then that’s it, you can’t wear it any more. That’s crazy. If you love something, wear it as much as you want.

But if fashion is about expressing yourself through what you choose to wear, then yes, I’m all for it.

And then there’s the whole issue of fast fashion.

I’ve worked in retail recently. I know what it is to have access to cheap clothes. Really, really cheap clothes. I’ve observed how many clothes people buy – more than they could possibly ever wear. I’ve witnessed people buying a whole holiday wardrobe of clothes that they plan to leave in country when they return. Don’t get me wrong. I love a bargain. I’m inextricably drawn to sale rails. Finding an item I love at a reduced price is double the pleasure. But I have bought plenty of clothes over the years that I don’t really even like just because they’re too good a bargain to refuse. Haven’t we all? Aren’t we tempted to buy twice as much just because it’s so cheap?

We all know why our clothes are so cheap. We’ve seen the reports from Bangladesh and India and Cambodia. We know about the dangerous working conditions. We know all about sweatshops and child labour. We choose to close our minds to it, because we think there’s nothing we can do and because deep down, we don’t want to change the way we shop. It’s fun. Shopping makes us feel great. Having a new outfit is a real buzz.

And if you need reminding, watch the recent film ‘True Cost’. It’s available on Netflix. But be warned – once seen, it cannot be unseen. It’s hard to watch this film and not feel the need to change your shopping habits in some way. What struck me most about the film was not the terrible effect of fast fashion on the producers – although that is uncomfortable to witness, really uncomfortable – but the whole other side of the industry – the waste. Where do all these clothes we discard go? There are just too many out there for anyone to deal with. The planet is groaning under the weight of all these unwanted clothes (a bit of poetic license there, but you get my point).

It’s hard to change the way we think. There’s a huge pressure to conform because this type of consumerism is what makes the Western world go round and millions are invested in advertising and the media to keep us wanting more and more and more and more and more…

So how does someone like me who loves clothes and wants to respond to the fast fashion crisis across the world find a better way? Here’s the path I try to follow:-

  • Not buying any clothes for a period of time

I did a whole year. Last year, for the whole of 2015, I did not buy any clothes at all. Well, to clarify – I bought items to complete my outfit for my son’s wedding; a couple of pairs of trousers I needed for a visit to the States; a skirt in the States as a souvenir of my trip. And that was it. Genuinely, that was it. No underwear even. And you know what? I survived! I had something to wear every day. Even for nights out. The sky didn’t fall in. My world didn’t unravel. I didn’t lose friends. I didn’t smell or look unkempt. And in one way, I felt completely liberated, completely set free from the tyranny of shopping.

This is a great exercise. It reveals how dependent we have become on shopping. And how we don’t need to be.

  • Buying with a clear intention

When January 1st 2016 arrived, I bought a dress. At half past midnight, Half an hour into the New Year. It was a dress I’d seen six weeks before and had waited and waited. It was the opposite of an impulse buy. And I love that dress!

Anyway, after that, I didn’t rush out and buy everything, just because I could. I changed my thinking. As a family, we took it a month at a time. In January, we all had a good look at our underwear drawers. We sorted them out and threw away some items and each wrote a list of what we needed. We shopped around. This is intentional shopping. In February, it was nightwear, March sportswear, April T shirts (although we’ve currently got stuck on that one which is the subject of an upcoming blog!). Anyway, you get the idea.

If you’re buying new, only ever buy what you’re sure you really need.

  • Buying from charity shops

This is the one!

The above doesn’t apply to buying from charity shops. I’ve decided that I will buy something in every charity shop I go into – to support the charity and to recycle a perfectly good piece of clothing. Buying from a charity shop is a real adventure and I love it. You never know what to expect.

  • Wearing other people’s clothes

I do quite a lot of this too. Some would say I have no pride. I would say that is a good thing! Although I used to feel I had to wear everything everyone gave me and felt guilty when I didn’t, but I’ve managed to be far more discerning now. If I try something out and it doesn’t make me feel great, then it has to go. I apply that to everything in my wardrobe. Decluttering helps you really see what you’ve got.

  • Buying ethically

I’ve been around the fair trade and ethical fashion world a while. I was buying Traidcraft clothing as long as 25 years ago. I have a gorgeous green velvet Nomads coat. I browse Braintree‘s site for ethical T shirts and leggings. I’ve recently discovered Epona. I’m in search of the perfect vest top, you see…that’s the upcoming blog in the making. And there are two things I really struggle with. One, the prices. Yes, I know why ethical clothing is so much more expensive, but something within me really struggles to justify spending that much. And maybe the main reason for that is my second point – the ranges. I really struggle to find items I really love. I’m not the person they’re aiming at, I don’t think. Most of the ethical fashion I come across is just not me. If I fell in love with a piece – like the Nomads coat I mentioned before – then I would happily pay the price for it.

  • Staying away from the shops

I allow myself to buy a new dress every month. And that has mainly been online. That may seem like a real luxury – I guess it is – but it is just one and it satisfies my need to shop and I do choose very carefully and with much consideration. Apart from that, I tend to stay away from the shops. If you don’t see it, you don’t yearn for it. I fill my life with other activities. Shopping for me is not a leisure activity. If I go in a clothes shop, it is never to browse. It is always with a clear purpose. I know what I am looking for and I will buy only that. And then, I will only buy it if I really love it – I will never buy anything if my head is saying ‘That will do.’ That’s not a good enough reason to buy.

I’m not suggesting you have to walk my path and do it my way. You have to decide on your own path. All I ask is that you decide and don’t just go with the flow. Be your own person – in what you wear and in what you buy.





becca3It’s always great when you stumble upon that thing that turns out to be your thing, isn’t it? A year ago, Becca moved into an unfurnished cottage with her husband and faced the enormous task of furnishing every room on a very tight budget. She decided to frequent the many second hand shops in the area and see what she could find. She wasn’t daunted by the prospect. She felt confident that she would be able to do what was required to renovate anything that she found. She’d always been good at decorating and thought painting furniture couldn’t be that different to painting walls. She believed that if she didn’t know how to do something, she would be able to google it and learn.

What she didn’t know at that point was how much she was going to fall in love with the whole process.

I love taking something wrecked and turning it into something that can have a life again. I simply can’t bear the thought of these pieces ending up at the tip. I naturally have a lot of patience, which you need, but I actually lose track of time. I forget to eat. I’m never bored. It makes me so happy. This is my thing. I love doing it and I’m good at it

becca2Becca has learnt a lot along the way. She has picked up inspiration from Pinterest. She’s learnt that sanding is an awful lot easier and quicker with an electric sander. She’s discovered chalk paint and learnt by experience how to get the best results. ‘The Upholstery Bible’ has become her Bible. And now she is also attending upholstery classes at Warwick College.

Becca is still young. She’s only 23. Not many people her age get it.

When friends come here, they like the vintage feel that we’ve created, but we don’t see people our age buying what we’re buying. They still all shop in IKEA. I think you get more for your money buying second hand from shops or Gumtree or Ebay though. Better quality, that’s for sure.

becca 1Becca has reached a point now where she cannot keep every piece that she has upcycled. Her house simply isn’t big enough to house it all. She’s taken the bold move of leaving her full-time job in a nursery to have more time for her upcycling. She’s taken on commissions. She’s created a Facebook page – Becca’s Upcycling. She’s beginning to see interest grow in what she is doing and is looking to sell some of her projects. She wants to find a way to be able to do this for the rest of her life.

This is what gets me up in the morning. Even when I’m doing something else, I’m thinking the whole time about what project I can do next. It engages my creativity. I look for ideas everywhere I go. Upcycling makes me happy. Really happy.

Her garage is upcycling heaven.

I don’t do the whole getting fit thing.  My physique tells people I’m fit…….tall, thin and kind of athletic looking but that’s where it ends.  I do very little.  Well, I walk a couple of miles a day, but that’s it.  That’s where my fitness regime ends.  It’s not really through lack of want either.  I would quite happily go to the gym if I didn’t have to pay money I just don’t have.

Anyway, we were out walking with the kids about a year ago and a family cycled past us.  That was it….simple as that. It was in my head and we had to do it.  Long story short, I got a bike for my birthday.  She’s white with a mermaid type shimmer on her……..But I was absolutely terrified to go out on her.  I hadn’t been cycling since I was about 9, so we’re talking 30 years. It was like learning all over again.

I put obstacle after obstacle in my way. I don’t have the right clothes…It’s too cold…It looks like rain…honestly, it was ridiculous.  Confidence is something I had in abundance when I was younger but it seems to have dwindled away over the years.  But once I got over that and actually got out there, I knew this was the best thing I’d done in ages.  And the saying is right – ‘it’s like riding a bike’ – you don’t forget.

I did a few small trips out with my most understanding daughter, who talked me through my little wobbles, getting to grips with gears and actually turning the handle bars to go around the corner haha.21-5

As well as going out with the family, there’s a group of us girls that go out.  Not too far, not too fast, but out. It can be social or solitary.  I can do it with the family, with my friends or completely alone. I don’t drive although I do have a driver (Mr H) haha, but this is a way for me to do something for myself. I can go places without bothering someone else…a little bit of independence rediscovered.

I can’t believe that it’s taken me until now to realise how much I love it.  Cycling along the Tyne and feeling the wind rippling my top and racing through my hair (yes I do wear a helmet).  Riding through the trees and seeing the leaves falling like huge snowflakes.  Feeling the burn in my legs trying to get up that last hill, cheeks flushed, heart pounding.  I feel so far removed from the world and my life.

It’s a get out, an escape that I never knew I needed until now.

My confidence is coming back.

My belief in myself is getting stronger as is my body.

They don’t look that great, I admit that. Maybe they don’t sound that amazing either. But trust me – pan-fried bananas are a joy. Yes, this glorious dessert contains butter and sugar, so may be deemed not that good for you. But the main ingredient is bananas and there’s orange juice and lemon juice in there too, so that’s got to be a good thing, right?

All I can suggest is of course, try the recipe for yourself. It’s quick and easy and super tasty – great for using up bananas that have been sat in the fruit bowl for a while.

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 50g butter
  • 3 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 4 bananas
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tbsp orange juice


  • pan fried bananasmelt the butter in a frying pan and add the sugar, stirring continuously until all the sugar has dissolved
  • peel and slice the bananas – diagonally works well – then coat them in the lemon juice to prevent discolouring
  • add them to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes until soft – not mushy, but just soft.
  • add the orange juice and cook for a further minute
  • then they’re ready to serve – they’re great with ice cream or fromage frais or some kind of cream…whatever’s your favourite
  • I garnish with basil because I love basil, but you could use mint – or chocolate sauce!

surprised by a butterfly: heaven 

by Helen R

Down in the woods where I walk with my dogs every morning, on the last few mornings when the sun has been shining, I have been surprised by a butterfly. Or even two or three. All different. One brilliant white with vibrant orange wing tips. One brown but a beautifully detailed speckled brown. One plain white but tinged with grey. I’ve tried to get close. I’ve tried to take a photo. But as soon as I move, that’s it, they’re gone. I have learnt to stand still and watch. To savour the moment. Because these moments of pure beauty are fleeting.

To me, being surprised by a butterfly is a moment of sheer joy. A moment where heaven breaks through and gives me a glimpse of something beautifully fragile, transient, totally unexpected. I cannot control these moments. I cannot predict when they will come. I cannot do anything to make them last.

There’s something about a butterfly that resonates with a lot of women. Some women love the whole story of metamorphosis – it speaks to them of transformation. Some believe a butterfly is a sign that someone they love is watching over them. Some respond to the glorious diversity of pattern and colour. Some connect with the fragility or freedom. For whatever reason, many women have a thing for butterflies. That’s why in every shop, you see every kind of item for sale with a butterfly design. I used to love these things myself. I have a Celtic butterfly tattoo on my right shoulder.

But now, I realise there is no substitute for the real thing. Getting out there. Putting yourself in the right place at the right time. Keeping your eyes wide open. Making space for the butterfly to surprise you and taking time to delight in it when it comes. That is butterfly heaven for me.24-5

surprised by a butterfly: hell

by Helen H

Trying to put my finger on when it changed is difficult, but at some point, I went from a little girl who used to go out catching butterflies to a little girl terrified by them.  Now I know that sounds all wrong to you people who love them, but there it is.

I spend my spring and summer months with a little ball of dread inside me.  Every time I open the front door, I pray I won’t have any unwanted encounters.  I subconsciously scan the road ahead and make a wide berth around heavily flowered areas.  I often say I am like a superhero…I have super senses when it comes to spotting a bug.  I can walk in a room and I just know that something is there.  Crazy?  Maybe…..but not a choice I made.  Not something I can easily stop.  Don’t get me wrong, I can marvel at the beauty and how delicate they are, but the long legs and chunky bodies repulse me and can turn me into a quivering wreck in a split second.

Actually, it’s most winged creatures. The only one I think I like is a Ladybug, but even when they fly, it freaks me out.  Last year, I went for therapy, which I do think helped in some small way, although I still react like a maniac if anything surprises me.

So no, I just don’t get the whole fascination with them. Every time they fill you with joy, they fill me with fear.